Monday, September 27, 2010

The History of Hair Jewelry

While antique shopping at the Grand Bazaar in Turkey, I came across this valuable vintage locket. Jewelry made with hair is dated back to at least the 1600's, when both men and women gave hair bracelets as love tokens. During this time one was likely to find the hair placed under glass and used as a background for initials or some other personal symbol to the wearer. Hair jewelry stayed popular until the late 1800's. At the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865), hair jewelry became popular once more as women wore the hair of husbands and sons in brooches and lockets, while soldiers may have a watch chain made from the hair of a loved one back at home.

Hair art was common throughout the Victorian era (1837-1901). It was used for a variety of functions from recording family history to tokens of affection exchanged between lovers. Naturally, hair art also became popular means to memorialize loved ones who had passed on. Mourning jewelry created with hair was intensely popular because it did not violate the strict code of conduct Victorian society imposed upon the conduct and dress of grieving persons. Queen Victoria gave pieces of jewelry made from her hair as gifts; many of these pieces were given to her children and grandchildren. Napoleon wore his watch on a chain made from the hair of his wife, Empress, Marie Louise.

Hair was valued for sentimental reasons at a time when there were no photographs. In lieu of photographs, young girls kept scrapbooks of their schoolmate's hair, usually with a name and verse to go with it identifying whose hair it was. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, postcards and valentines were sent with hair attached. The sentimental sender would glue locks of their hair onto specially made postcards, (a picture of a beautiful woman) and send it to someone as a keepsake.

Now, hair art and hair jewelry is a collectible that may be worth a lot of money. Today there are only a few hair artists who are making this type of jewelry. There are no schools where one can go for instructions, so this art is self-taught. An enormous amount of time is spent learning the different techniques. The process of creating a piece of hair jewelry can take anywhere from 8-10 hours or days depending on the size and detail of the piece. The process begins by sorting the hair, counting the hair, and then tying the strands into groups. That is why woven hair jewelry is very valuable.

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